Photo by Travis McHale

Sean Williams in ASYMMETRIC, Photo by Travis McHale

Although the plot here hangs on the exotica of spies, “black ops,” high treason—and low farce—its substance concerns a failed marriage, something most of us know a little about.

A clever opening scene backs us into the story.  Josh (Sean Williams) once ran a boutique unit of the CIA–a creature of his own design–with a big brief and a blank check.  Now he has the look of a man in need of a shower; he is unshaven, dressed in sweats and trying to work out why he is in a CIA interrogation room sparring with Zack (Seth Shelden), a man he trained.

In Scene 2 we meet the other players.  Sunny Black (Kate Middleton), a rogue agent who has given the schematics of the Icarus Drone to the bad guys. This diminutive blonde is strapped to a chair, and Ford (Rob Maitner) is just opening his metal case of disturbing instruments of torture. He wants names.

The script is clever.  While the overarching messages deal in ethics and treason and the dark, timely memes of mega-data and robotic warfare, the script is salted with laugh lines.  (Much is made of the idiocy of naming a drone Icarus..)  On some level, playwright Mac Rogers casts these spies and spooks, usually characters in films or nightmares, in the light of any four coworkers in any office intrigue.

The backstory of the divorced Josh and Sunny gives them a lot of history to trade on.  He was the big gun who set up a huge sub rosa operation.  She was the accomplished field agent he fell for. Williams plays Josh as an ambivalent fellow, wounded and pathetic to begin, then arch and heroic.  Middleton plays Sunny as emotionally remote.  The subtext throughout is the “how-and-why” of their eight-year marriage imploding.

The secondary players, the support staff, create a good deal of tension.  Ford wants to torture the wife, unman the husband and displace Zack, his boss.  Zack is one-part befuddled bureaucrat and two parts conflicted protégé.  Each is drawn rather broadly, more useful in advancing the action than engaging the audience.

Sometimes at this venue, the stage is a kind of star, as producers shape very limited real estate with a brilliant kind of economy.  This time out, the 55 seats surrounding Stage C put the actors right on top of the audience. It’s not intimate; it’s crowded.

That said, considering how close the performers are to the audience, fight choreographer Ron Piretti makes us believe it when we watch a small woman takes down a brutish, armed man.  What’s more, we watch a professional thug cut off Sunny’s finger to get her to “talk,” just feet from us, and we pretty much believe that too.  At least it made my skin crawl.

At seventy minutes Asymmetric seemed overlong.  It is a complicated tale to tell, and so perhaps needs a lot of explanation…even some repetition.  It’s the classic playwright’s dilemma: Don’t explain enough, and you lose your audience; explain too much, and you get someone like me saying it’s overlong.

Bottom Line: there are many good moments.  The script is timely in its topic–and timeless in it’s conflict. Everyone did their work, and well.  I’m not sorry I went. But I left feeling unsatisfied.

Asymmetric – By Mac Rogers; directed by Jordana Williams

WITH: Sean Williams (Josh), Kate Middleton (Sunny), Rob Maitner (Ford), and Seth Shelden (Zack).

Designed by Travis McHale;sound by Jeanne Travis; costumes by Amanda Jenks.  Devan Elise Hibbard is the stage manager with an assist from Victoria Barclay.  At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street,